Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"I'm happy enough."

Sometimes I have to remind myself that no one has their shit together the way I think they do.
The other day I had a bit of a breakdown.  In the middle of a perfectly unemotional, run-of-the-mill conversation, I suddenly began to unload a whole host of insecurities at the doorstep of a trusted friendship.  You name it, I probably worked it into my babble; things such as:
-"I just want to feel like I'm making the 'right' decisions. I just want things to feel 'right.'"
-"I want to feel confident in my choices, no matter how seemingly insignificant they are."
-"I am almost 33 and don't have children."
-"I'm scared I'm too jaded to be able to really love and too much of a wanderer to accept real devotion."
-"I don't know why I feel the way I feel."
-"I'm worried I'll never be happy with myself."
-"I want to be 'settled,' but I don't want to settle."
-"Other people seem so content with their lives as they are. I want that, but I don't want to be bored."
-"I have no idea what is going to make me truly happy." (See title)
-"What is most frustrating is that I think I have the courage to make tough decisions if I only knew what the hell I was supposed to do. The thing is, I just don't know."

His response? (paraphrased)...
"Do you know how many people think you are the happiest person alive?  If they hear you talk or see your Facebook stuff, they would never guess you worry about any of this. And in that line of reasoning, you're probably giving other people far too much credit as well.  No one knows the answers to this stuff. Well, not really at least. If they do, they've probably just taken a safe path - the one someone else likely set out for them -and haven't taken the time to question.  It's okay to not have the answers.  Hoping for some clear-cut direction will only lead to disappointment.  Just live your life."

I think that's probably pretty good advice.

And I offer this, not to put my cynicism and self-absorption on display, but to remind you that we all experience doubt and confusion; that we are all seeking something intangible that we will likely fumble over when trying to describe; that we are all screwed up in our own ways.  And while I refuse to use these insecurities as steeping stones to some gilded, touchy-feely "it takes the dark to see the light" reassurances, I will say that simply knowing no one else has themselves figured out anymore than I do, is comforting.  So, thank you all, for being equally messed up.;)
If any of you have ever considered or "seen" me the way I describe above, keep in mind that a friend posted this on my Facebook wall not too long ago. ...and that it isn't entirely outlandish.
Sometimes others' perceptions ARE, however, more keen than our own self-image...

Southern Peach Pork Chops (Except I didn't use peaches...)
From Good Housekeeping's, "Fast Weeknight Favorites" Cookbook

1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 bone-in pork chops
4 large peaches, each cut in half and pitted (did not have any)
1/2 c. peach or apricot jam or preserves (I only had grape)

In a cup, stir first 7 ingredients with a fork until blended.  Rub on both sides of the pork chops. If using fruit, brush cut side of each peach half and one side of chops with some jam. Place peaches, jam side down, and chops, jam side up, on grill over medium heat.  Grill 5 minutes.  Turn chops and peaches. Brush grilled side of chops with jam and grill 5 minutes longer.  Transfer peaches to serving platter as they are browned.  Cook pork chops 4-5 minutes more and transfer to serving platter.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Ain't it like most people? I'm no different. We love to talk on things we don't know about."

Things I know about Brad Paisley and LL Cool J:
1. I think LL Cool J used to wear overalls with only one strap fastened.
2. Brad Paisley is married to the girl from "Father of the Bride."
3. LL Cool J is on CSI or NCIS or something of the sort.
4. I ashamedly and inexplicably like the line (from what I believe is a Brad Paisley song) about putting a lampshade on your head.
5. From what I can tell, both seem like nice guys. 
I am in no position to critique their music, their public personas, or the intention behind any of their work.  I haven't listened to "Accidental Racist," nor have I followed the critiques of (what I imagine to be) a mediocre-at-best musical collaboration. I'm confident I get the gist of the controversy in this SNL skit.
Something I do, however, feel comfortable commenting on because I've heard it (and probably unintentionally done it at times) throughout my life...
I hate when someone's race or sexual orientation is mentioned in conversation when it has absolutely no relevance to the given conversation. Examples: "I saw this black man walking down the street" (and then proceeds to tell me what a cute dog he had); "I got behind this Hispanic woman at the store" (and then proceeds to tell me about their conversation about plastic bags); "I have this gay friend" (and then proceeds to tell me how they also like the Avett Brothers). 
If someone asks for a description of me and offering "white female" would be helpful in identification, okay. I understand that political correctness has limits.  However, I think far too often we all make distinctions that are completely unnecessary. Lest you find yourself having a conversation in the middle of a public library that continually makes reference to "the black woman," let's all be more mindful of the stuff that comes out of our mouths.
Sometimes you just need to put on some Hello Kitty rain boots, a princess dress with a sheer tulle skirt, and go play with some puppies...
Sometimes you just need to be amazing...

Sometimes you just need to fry some stuff...
Upon discovering that I had never been dry land fish hunting (and being shocked that someone raised in Cumberland County had escaped this rite of passage), my favorite library patron brought me some Saturday morning.  To prepare them, I cut them in half and let them soak in salt water for a few hours, drained them, tossed in cornmeal, flour, seasoned salt, and pepper, and fried them in batches in vegetable oil. They weren't bad, but if any of you have suggestions regarding additional steps or dipping sauce recipes, I'd sure love to hear them.

p.s. I have gone "hunting" twice since initally disappointing said awesome patron.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Easy spring project
This project was inspired by two things:
1) I've noticed two tires sitting by the barn for about two years. I figured if someone needed them, they would've already used them.
2) Every spring in Cumberland County, there is a tire drop-off and trash trailer weekend in which residents can bring any sized item to centralized locations and dispose of the stuff too large/awkward/non-biodegradable for normal trash pick-up.

I started thinking about how all of those used tires could be recycled (playground "mulch," multi-colored planters, extreme races like the Warrior Dash). Since I don't have a lot of knowledge of breaking down rubber and converting it into a safe bed of playground flooring, I went with Plan B: colorful tire swing for my favorite girl. 

I cleaned the tire out well, picked up some indoor/outdoor spray paint in her favorite colors (turquoise and pink), and started working.

Homemade Soft Pretzels (Alton Brown - Food Network.com)
I can turn down sweets. I could live the rest of my life without ever having another french fry.  I could be a non-complaining vegetarian if, for some reason, that were necessary. I can not do without my bread. 

Big, doughy bagels and pretzels are two of my favorites (although I eat toast like nobody's business and get excited about a plain ol' loaf of regular sandwich bread).  I've made homemade bagels before, but found the "time required:enjoyment" ratio a little unbalanced.  The recipe below, however, does not fail the "you mean I spent all day making these and they're not much better than what I could go buy at Houchens?" litmus test.  The pretzels are fairly quick and easy and, if eaten right out of the oven, really, really delicious.  Give them a try.

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted (that's 1/4 stick butter)
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.
Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.

Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
For dipping sauce recipes, you might want to check out this blog.
I am fortunate enough to have thoughtful people in my life who are handy and who realize Easter basket appreciation knows no age limit. Here are some of my favorites...
An apron that totally "looks like me," a hand-crafted ink pen (that writes really well to boot), an amazingly-skilled, injection-mold flower, and a basket of goodies for my 12 cats (that's right, they got one for each cat) and Lucy and Willie. I'm a lucky girl.
I love this. He's funny without trying too hard. The message is pertinent and powerful, but not preachy or unrealistic. The argument for creativity, reading, and thinking is so much more eloquent, yet relatable, than I could ever make. When you have an extra 15 minutes, take the time to watch. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pants. Wear them.

Several posts ago, I did a list of "life tips/things I've come to learn or that matter to me." One of them was to simply "figure yourself out/know yourself." This doesn't have to be a product of some emotionally cathartic, self-reflection essay; "truth" is rarely found in lyrical poems filled with unnecessary adjectives and metaphorical references purposely thrown in to give the impression of "depth;" self-awareness doesn't have to be some pretentious, "new age"-y, "I'm so much more enlightened than you" nonsense.  ...

You know how you are sometimes asked to describe yourself or someone else in some arbitrary number of words/phrases (maybe for a job interview or ice breaker activity...or just because you're bored and there are no magazines around to inspire a delightful round of "catalog game")?

1. Even if you have no idea what I'm talking about, try it.  It's sometimes good to force ourselves to be more concise than we otherwise would be.
Example - Liza: introspective, seeker/ponderer/wanderer, busybody
2. Think about the images that "look like" you and/or someone you care about.
Example - Here are 15 of my favorite Pinterest "pins." (Links to the actual sites are below each picture).
I'm not suggesting that self-awareness and self-respect come from scrolling Pinterest. However, I do think the images we pin, the statuses and links we "Like" on Facebook, and the things we choose to talk about tell stories. It just seems we would benefit from being more mindful of what those stories actually are. 
So, what "story" are my images telling? 
You seriously need to make this. Tonight.
Apple Cake (as featured in my great-grandmother, Etta Brown Turner's, recipe collection)

We called Etta, "Gramma" (Leon, Jr./"Papa's" mother). Aunt Carolyn gave me her recipe collection several months ago and this is the first thing I've made from it. I will be visiting it again soon. 
The one on the left is another one of my favorite cookbooks.  Chef Schmid is a Kentucky author/chef/professor/all around super guy who spoke at the library in 2010 in conjunction with the Kentucky Humanities Council.  I encourage you to stop by the CCPL and check out The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook (I used it last night for an apple bourbon-glazed pork loin).

Monday, April 1, 2013

I wish I had a good "DPS escorted me back to the dorm because I was naked and running around a sculpture" story.

I like to enjoy the Huffington Post with my morning coffee.  I typically read the major political and world headlines first, move on to the "Books" section (found under "Entertainment"), and then scan the other subcategories for random articles that seem interesting. This one by Hemal Jhaveri, published on March 27, really stuck with me: 35 Things I Wish I Had Done Before Turning 35.

I decided to do the same thing in this post: 32 things I wish I had done before turning 32. I thought it important to not venture into the world of "regret," however.  Things like "I should have taped oral histories with my Dad," or "I should have finished the dissertation," will be stuff I will always question. To the contrary, the things I chose to include here are more whimsical in nature, things that would have been fun or interesting in the moment, but that I won't necessarily dwell on, or even really think about, down the road. In short, this is just a "boy, that would've made for a good story" list.

1. Shaved my head. I've just always wondered what I would look like.
2. Gone skydiving. I still plan to do this at some point.
3. Changed my own tire.
4. Let Adrienne sing the national anthem at my last home basketball game my Senior year.
5. Run the flame at Centre.
6. Taken guitar lessons.
7. Studied abroad a full semester while in college.
8. Kissed the boy on the bus ride home from Kentucky Kingdom.
9. Eaten more donuts.
10. Lived in Vermont...and worked for a baker.
11. Competed in a barrel racing competition.
12. Read more for enjoyment between the ages of 15 and 30.
13. Done a two-year Peace Corps stint.
14. Pursued the vet tech position at Heartland.
15. Reapplied to Emory.
16. Stayed in a hostel.  Most interesting people I know have a good hostel story.
17. Hitchhiked. For the same reason just mentioned.
18. Led/organized a flash mob.
19. Got into a fight.  I stole this from Jhaveri, but it really is a secret wish; in my head, I'd be scrappy and quite impressive.
20. Danced with the boy at the Centre convocation who walked up and asked even though my parents were sitting beside me.
21. Gone to see the Ellen show.
22. Traveled to Portland, Oregon, the Grand Canyon, and northern Maine.
23. Completed a triathlon.
24. Taken a hip hop dance class.
25. Paid more for a few pairs of really good-fitting jeans.
26. Tried oysters. And fried Twinkies (and any other State Fair equivalent).
27. Sent someone a singing telegram.
28. Taken more pictures....of everything.
29. Written more notes in class.  I love going back and reading ones I kept from middle/high school.
30. Been called up on stage to karaoke in a "students v. teachers" singing competition...especially if the selected song was Lil' Mama's, "Girlfriend."
31. Traveled to at least one restaurant in every state that has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
32. Kept the J. Crew dress that will always remind me of Ferris wheels, and the Cheesecake Factory, and Che Guevara.

What would some of yours be?
Recipe of the Week...
Polenta, via The Backyard Homestead (has the consistency of, and is cooked like, grits, but I think it is much more versatile; can be topped with a whole host of flavors)
This makes about 3-4 servings:
Combine 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. cornmeal in a small bowl. In saucepan, bring 2 1/2 c. water to a boil, then pour moistened cornmeal and 1/2 tsp. salt in, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook on low heat until thickened (only took 3-4 minutes). Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp. butter, 1/4 c. Parmesan, 1/2 tsp. oregano, and pepper to taste.
Because I wanted mine to have a crust-like top, I then moved the mixture to a casserole dish, topped with a cheddar/jack blend and put in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Project of the Week...
Bunny tail Easter cake via...a million pictures on Pinterest (seriously, just type in "bunny bottom cake like I did):)
Isabella's Easter "basket": pistachio bunny cake, eggs filled with IOUs like "One tea party and nail painting" or "Pottery lesson at Aunt Sherry's," and the stuffed bunnies featured in the last post.
Restaurant of the Week...
Adelia's Bakery & Cafe in Frankfort
"This hometown favorite is owned and operated by the Sims family who has been serving Frankfort for 30 years. They invite you to come and enjoy their sandwiches, salads, and soups for lunch.

The café menu includes made-to-order grilled paninis and classic deli-style sandwiches served with your choice of homemade side salads such as potato, broccoli, and pasta. Café combos are another great way to try the variety of garden-fresh salads, chicken and tuna salads, and hot soups that are offered daily. Top off each meal with one of the bakery’s yummy desserts which include homemade pies and banana pudding."